Monday, November 8th, 2010
I am not sure I fully appreciated my cousins growing up. They would visit once or twice a year and I remember shared activities such as carving pumpkins together, sliding down very cold mountain waterfalls, and throwing toy cars at one another.
They did, however, hold some degree of cool factor as my aunt married a Brit, so they lived (still do) in England, thereby possessing classic British accents. This provided ongoing entertainment for my brother and myself, as we tried to imitate their speech and use their different words and phrases – a “lorry” is a truck? “Bloody” is an explicative? “Brilliant!”
What I don’t remember is cooking together or talking about food.
I don’t know how this escaped us, because my aunt and cousins are apparently the best of the best in this department. Top rate Indian fare and on the fly seasoners – real artists my mother tells me. They have yet to cook for me, but when I posted my at the moment favorite brussels sprouts recipe last winter and my cousin chimed in with a suggestion of shredding the sprouts and sauteing them with pancetta, butter, and nutmeg, I was sold. I knew that as soon as sprout season was back in swing, I had to try it.
Here’s what he said – I love his phrasing and I can just hear it in his lilting British accent:
“Another great way to cook them…is to shred them finely (like the mini cabbages that they are) and saute them in plenty of butter with crispy streaky bacon or (even better) some pancetta. Add a couple of twists of nutmeg right at the end along with your lemon juice and you’ve got a vegetable dish that is not exactly a healthy green veg, but delicious and also a world away from the insipid, soggy little balls of green mush that everyone passes off for sprouts over here in England!”
Ah! What else is there to say? Other than the fact that this kitchen averse pregnant mamma has made these twice in one week and cannot stop thinking about them. They really are that good (so good, I threw caution to the wind and grabbed my camera on the fly and snapped this picture so I would have something, anything, to show you – so spontaneous – what is happening to me?)!
Shredded brussels sprouts with pancetta and nutmeg
2 1/2 lbs. fresh small, young brussels sprouts
4-6 ounces pancetta, sliced thin or diced small
2 Tablespoons butter (more as needed)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)
sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
couple squeezes of fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
Trim off the ends of the brussels sprouts and shred or dice into thin strips. Rinse and dry the shredded sprouts. Melt butter in a large pan. Add the pancetta and saute until beginning to brown. Add the sprouts and saute until they begin to soften, 5-10 minutes. Add up to 1 more tablespoon of butter for moisture and taste if needed/desired. Sprinkle nutmeg evenly over sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Turn heat up on the pan and deglaze with a couple of squeezes of lemon juice. The predominant flavorings should be the salty pancetta and the warm nutmeg, with only a hint of sour in the background from the lemon, so start with just a little lemon (1 tbs), and add more to taste. This will make 4-6 side servings.
Saturday, July 24th, 2010
I’ve had a serious lavender crush for some time now – lavender infused truffles, lavender whipped cream, lavender butter, rosemary lavender shortbread - like I said, it’s a pretty serious crush.
It all started at a wedding and with my dear friend, Amy, who was the mastermind behind a layer of lavender infused wedding cake. I had been dating Brian for just three months at the time, and we danced the night away, not quite knowing yet that it would be us walking down the aisle just three short months later (no, your math is not incorrect, we quite apparently followed this path).
I do not remember any of the other cake layers, or the cake icing, but I remember that layer of lavender cake…
moist, softly sweet, and deliciously infused with just a hint of beautiful, floral lavender.
Amy, being often more daring in her culinary endeavors than myself, and likely simply altogether more sophisticated, has long been infusing lavender into foods, and her list of lavender creations has only grown over time.
It was two winters ago when Amy was visiting that I first tasted these muffins. As former college roommates, Amy and I have always loved cooking together.
Let’s see – on that particular visit we made double chocolate scones (twice), apricot couscous (note to self – must post this recipe!), Romanian chicken and rice (this one too – so simple and comforting), homemade pasta (didn’t we, Amy? – or should I say, didn’t you?), strawberry lavender jam, lavender brownies, and these lemon lavender blueberry muffins.
These are very special little muffins. The base blueberry muffin recipe is courtesy of Alton Brown. It uses cake flour to create a perfectly light texture and fine crumb, and both baking soda and baking powder for a soft interior and lightly crisp crust. Yogurt adds both delicate flavor as well as acidity to leaven and lighten. There are no lack of blueberries within, and each muffin is dotted with additional blueberries, just for flair.
Alone this is a pretty awesome blueberry muffin.
But add the zest of three lemons and three teaspoons of crushed lavender, and what have you? Amazing, succulent, tangy floral berry wonderfulness – that’s what you’ve got. Flavors meant for each other – lemon, lavender and blueberry.
I think this could also easily be made into a loaf or sheet cake… drizzled with a concentrated lemon glaze? Ah, I think that would make Amy proud.
Nevertheless, it is quite amazing as little muffins, just like this, and little Jonathan can’t get enough of them – lucky him for falling for lavender well before his twenties – to think of all the lavender adventures that lie ahead!
Lemon lavender blueberry yogurt muffins
base blueberry muffin recipe found here
12 1/2 ounces cake flour (just under 2 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
heavy pinch salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
zest of 3 lemons
3 teaspoons lavender buds
2 tablespoons ground pecans mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 380 degrees F. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
In a food processor or mini chopper, pulse sugar and lavender buds together until buds are crushed and dispersed throughout the sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together lavender infused sugar, oil, egg, and yogurt and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients, reserving one T of dry ingredients to toss with the blueberries. Stir just until dry ingredients are incorporated, add 1 cup of blueberries, and stir 3 more times. Reserve 1/2 cup of blueberries.
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full and then dot reserved blueberries on top, pressing down lightly. Sprinkle ground pecan mixture on top if desired.
Place muffins in the oven to bake and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 15-18 minutes for mini muffins and 20 to 25 minutes for larger muffins, rotating pan halfway through.
Remove from heat and turn over and out, to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.
Monday, February 22nd, 2010
My experience with brussels sprouts is a bit like my experience with people – first impressions are not always the last impressions. It happens more often than I’d like to admit that just as I feel I’ve gotten someone all figured out, I am suddenly and swiftly smacked smartly across the cheek by an enlightening discovery, thereby unveiling my certain capacity for fallible judgment. While such a discovery may be disheartening, at its best, it illuminates unseen beauty and merit, and in an instant, what had been previously rejected becomes tangible, relatable, and intensely desirable. Brussels sprouts and I have just this kind of personal history.
My childhood first impressions of these adorable rolly polly wild cabbages need little embellishment, as they are shared by many a child far and wide yet today. Mushy. Slimy. Stinky. Growing up, my mother did not make brussels sprouts (that I remember), but somehow I had enough knowledge of and endearment to their notorious reputation to fondly refer to them as “brussels brains.”
However, during college, shortly after my mother married my stepfather and long after my judgement of the petite little cerebrals at hand was firmly set in place, my stepfather prepared for me some fresh brussels sprouts. Really? Are you sure these are brussels sprouts? I thought brussels sprouts were BAD. How can this be? Brussels brains cannot actually be GOOD.
The thing is, I had never had fresh brussels sprouts, cooked right. If you’ve never had brussels sprouts, please try them this way. First. And do not overcook them. The reason brussels sprouts have gotten such a bad rap is two fold. One is the fact that eighty plus percent of brussels sprouts sold in the U.S. are frozen. I have no problem with many frozen vegetables, however, brussels sprouts are one where it is difficult to recover the pleasingly firm texture and delicate nutty flavor once frozen and defrosted. Secondly, brussels sprouts contain sinigrin, an amazing health agent, however, when overcooked, disintegrates into a mustard oil that smells (and tastes?!) like sulphur.
Oven roasting is a beautiful way to prepare brussels sprouts, creating a slightly crisp outer leaf while retaining a firm texture throughout, thereby banishing for good all slimy “brussels brains” childhood impressions. I like to cut my sprouts in half so I can get more seasoning over more surface area, and in this preparation, the the olive oil gives strong compliments to the nutty sprout flavor alongside generous sprinklings of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. But what takes this simple recipe over the top, is just as simple itself. Drizzle each portion with fresh squeezes of lemon juice and you have a side dish or light lunch that sings fresh, tangy, salty, earthy, nutty, and not easily forgotten.
Roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and fresh lemon
3/4 lb. (12 ounces) brussels sprouts*
1 tablespoon olive oil*
1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt
several cracks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 – 1/3 fresh lemon cut into slices or juiced (to taste)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove outer leaves and bases and cut each sprout in half. Swirl sprouts in a tepid water bath to wash and remove any embedded dirt. Remove and pat to dry. Put sprouts in a medium bowl and toss to coat with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper to taste. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil and spread sprouts out evenly in dish. Bake for 13-16 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. Sneak a sprout out to test for doneness – I prefer most veggies rather firm, so you may wish a longer cooking time, just remember, sprouts are ruined by overcooking, so keep watch! During the last minute or two of baking, if you desire some browned and crispy edges, you may wish to turn the broiler on. Place sprouts either in a serving bowl and drizzle with lemon juice, or serve in individual dishes with a nice lemon wedge alongside (this is how I do it, thus it is difficult for me to say exactly how much lemon, but I know I use at least 1/4 of a medium lemon for this amount of sprouts). This makes about three side dish servings, one large, or two smaller light meal portions – may be scaled as desired.
* Smaller, younger sprouts tend to be more tender and have a more delicate flavor.
* You can taste the flavor of the olive oil so pick your favorite – a light, buttery and not overbearing variety would be perfect.